Written by Helen Whitaker
It has come to light this week that the Director of Public Prosecutions has set out new sentencing guidelines with regards to benefit fraud. These new guidelines could result in a 10 year prison sentence as the top penalty.
This penalty will be an increase from the current maximum sentence of 7 years under the social security legislation, to 10 years. This is because any charges for benefit fraud will be brought under the Fraud Act 2006, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The new guidelines have been brought about due to an increase in prosecutions for benefit fraud, and an increased conviction rate of about 87%. All in all it is believed that the new guidelines will reduce benefit fraud, which costs the tax payer £1.2 billion every year.
Currently any fraud that is under the £20,000 within the present legislation will be sent to the Magistrates Courts. This means that a custodial sentence over 12 months cannot be imposed, as well as limited fines. However, it is proposed that under the new guidelines this financial limitation will no longer exist and any case can be tried in the Crown Court. As a result to this proposed change there could be a lot tougher sentences all around and not just for the higher end offences. This means that those who would initially have faced less than a 12 month custodial sentence could now face a much higher custodial sentence.
Swain & Co’s criminal lawyers say that the new proposed fraud guidelines are a lot stricter than those used at this moment in time. However, a large portion of the benefit fraud offences that are currently charged are under the Fraud Act 2006, this means that the proposed guidelines may make little difference to the sentences as they are already operating in this way.
The proposed guidelines are not supported by all because they are making sentencing changes to a crime that causes very little economic damage, when compared to other fraudulent crimes.